England begin their bid for world supremacy in sevens rugby in Dubai at the Emirates Airline tournament being staged on Thursday and Friday in the Exiles Stadium in the Gulf State.
Having finished winners in the final round of last season's world series at Twickenham, England have been installed as the number one seeds for the Dubai tournament. England coach Joe Lydon, however, believes that the top seeding status could count for little unless his side play to form.
"The IRB World Series is now more open. There is very little between the top five or six teams. But we will go into this opening tournament of the world series better prepared than last year.
"Overall we want to improve on our second place last season and consolidate our position in the top five. I think now that we merit respect and recognition from the other top teams. But we can't assume anything. Sevens is a sport in which any team is capable of beating any other" said Lydon.
England will have to be wary of underdogs showing their teeth in the opening day of the tournament. First up for England are Morocco, who have several players based in France and who have considerable experience on the sevens circuit. Then England face Sri Lanka, a team that caused problems for the mighty All Blacks last year in Dubai.
England's final game of the pool stages will be against France. Not perhaps replicating the semi final of the World Cup in Sydney but nevertheless a tricky tie for the English.
Lydon is confident that he has the right squad to challenge for the Emirates Trophy, currently held by New Zealand, who will be bidding for a fifth successive win. "We have a well balanced squad with pacy players and hard workers, with experience and potential. It's great that we have a young player like Danny Hipkiss. He's inexperienced at sevens but the sevens game will do a lot for him" stated Lydon.
Supplying the experience to the side are Tony Roques, Pat Sanderson, Ben Gollings, and Simon Amor, four of the ten players contracted this season to form the core of the England sevens squad.
Roques, along with Richard Haughton is likely to be rested initially, the pair having played a Zurich Premiership match last Sunday.
England should have little difficulty topping their group but it is in the knock-out stages that the real action is expected to happen. Likely quarter final opponents for England are Argentina but should the Pumas spring a surprise then England could face the number two seeds in the quarters.
Unlikely , however. New Zealand have brought a squad that is packed with experienced sevens players with the likes of Justin Wilson, Brad Fleming, Karl Te Nana, and Craig De Goldie ready to restore glory to the All Blacks.
Elsewhere South Africa, coached by the legendary Chester Williams have a young and pacy squad, Australia have taken a renewed interest in sevens, Fiji are blooding some young players while Samoa are ready to exploit any weakness shown by the top seeds.
England squad : S Amor, G Appleford, T Roques, T Rees, J Brooks, D Hipkiss, P Sanderson, U Monye, P Dowson, R Thirlby, B Gollings, R Haughton